Two Zika particles at work (Image: David S. Goodsel/RCSB Protein Data Bank)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is collecting semen from hundreds of Zika-infected men to figure out how long the sexually transmitted virus lingers in the body.
Zika is primarily transmitted by infected mosquitoes, but it can also spread through sexual contact. Virus particles remain in the body even after symptoms have disappeared, but scientists aren’t entirely sure how long it takes the body to completely flush out this disease, which is known to cause serious birth defects.
For the past two months, the CDC has been asking men who have been infected with Zika to provide semen samples. In return for their contribution, the CDC is awarding them a $50 multi-use gift card. To date, some 40 men have volunteered their precious bodily fluids, but the CDC would like to collect about 210 more.
To make it convenient, a courier will pick up the donations and deliver them directly to the CDC’s lab in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I’m happy to say patients really have been quite receptive about volunteering their specimens,” noted Dr. Paul Mead, an epidemiologist in charge of the study, in a CNN post. “They seem to understand the importance of the study.”
Collecting semen samples from men in the United States shouldn’t be too difficult. The number of Zika cases has nearly quadrupled in New York City alone since May. In all, there have been more than a thousand cases of Zika in the US, and that number is expected to grow. The CDC reports that the disease has been sexually transmitted at least 14 times in the United States.
Until more is learned, sexually active people who have visited areas in which Zika is active, or who have good reason to believe they’ve been exposed to the virus, are being told to adopt safe sex practices, like wearing a condom. Men who are seeking to get their partners pregnant should wait at least six months after their symptoms first appeared, and women who have been infected should hold off for two months.